Director’s Notes: Shakespeare’s Stories

For many people, Shakespeare can feel like a foreign language. Some are intimidated by the length of the plays; the big words and strange contractions. On the page, Shakespeare can feel daunting, but the key is to speak it aloud. Shakespeare is meant to be played.

I’ve been wanting to produce Shakespeare here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine for a long time. After reading Ken Ludwig’s book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and cutting edge research from the Royal Shakespeare Company relating to Shakespeare and early literacy, I finally felt we were ready. It’s never too late to become familiar with this language and these stories. The Museum & Theatre is the perfect place for the synchronization of young actors approaching the material for the first time, and a young audience discovering the magic of these stories.

With the generous help of our long-time friend and supporter, the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, we have enhanced this production beyond our normal capacity. We hired guest directors, and it has been a pleasure to watch Allison, Marjolaine and Kristen bring us to new depths as actors and designers. We offered Shakespeare acting workshops, hosted “Shakespeariments” with young visitors and had a whole Shakespeare themed summer here at the Museum & Theatre. I am excited to continue this work beyond the summer. I think our work with Shakespeare and early literacy development has only just begun!

Now all that’s missing is you, the audience. Young children are constantly learning new words, and they approach vocabulary fearlessly. A young audience watches before they listen, identifies with the movement on the stage and takes in characters at face value. I eagerly await the young audience members filling the seats of the Dress Up Theater, encountering these magical stories for the very first time!



Remembering Jim Laurita

My heart broke when I read the news this morning of Jim Laurita’s death. As the founder of Hope Elephants, his story inspired and informed my work with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine this summer.

I spent the day with Jim back in early May. Brent and I drove up there and watched him give tour after tour after tour. It was a rainy day and we spent the entire day in the barn with Jim, the elephants and group after group after group. I remember the pungent smell of elephant dung, and feeling the love when Jim gave Rosie a bath. Jim sent us off to Camden for coffee because “the girls needed a break”. Opal reacted to my voice, and Jim said that I sounded like his sister. I have a recording of our forty minute interview still on my ipad. I was struck by his attentive love to those two elephants, his care and understanding and his ultimate commitment to them and to educating the world about them. There’s some people that exist on a higher plane of consciousness and care. I believe that Jim Laurita was one of those people. I am grateful for few interactions I had with him.

Introducing the cast of “The Road to Hope” to Jim in late June was one of the most rewarding days of my career. The caravans up to Hope, and seeing all of them meet Rosie, Opal and Jim for the first time was pure magic. They all knew the story, and they saw the reality and put it in context. I could see each of them spark up with inspiration and ideas.

I’m so glad we had the opportunity to perform the play in Camden this summer. Though Jim didn’t attend the play, I’m sure he heard about it and I’m sure he was proud of us and happy that we were helping him carry his message of conservation and the sanctity of life and caring for others. I will always remember how closely the town of Camden listened that day, and their trumpets instead of applause.

Jim created a safe place for Rosie and Opal. I believe the Hope Elephant Sanctuary will live on and thrive in his memory as a sanctuary and beacon of education and respect for these beautiful creatures. I will have Hope Elephants in my prayers over the next few weeks as the community grieves the loss of truly amazing human.

~ Reba

Director’s Notes from “The Road to Hope: An Elephant’s Story”

rosie promo1

Last August I took a mini road trip with my best friend to climb Mount Katahdin and meet some retired circus elephants. We piled in the car and headed north on Route One. Inside the elephant sanctuary, we met two massive and beautiful creatures who were rocking to their own rhythm. A friendly voice then said: “Did you know that elephants love reggae?” We turned and met Dr. Jim, opening his presentation for us visitors with a joke and a smile.

As I watched Rosie and Opal swaying that day, they reminded me of every kid I’ve ever met: massive, playful, personal and loving. (Yes, I did just call kids massive — most are in our small theatre!) Rosie’s story of how she was pushed by Isla reminded me of the countless stories I’ve heard our actors share about bullies in their schools. Like elephants, kids are herd animals. They can be kind and loving, but also jealous, territorial and possessive.

Bullying is an epidemic in our society. Despite the best efforts of educators and psychologists, classroom bullying is not going anywhere. Social media seems to have intensified the phenomenon.

In 2011 I had the privilege to work with leading anti-bullying expert Stan Davis on a touring theatrical piece called “Youth Voices Onstage”. We traveled to classrooms with a troupe of young actors (Aiden Davenport was one of the original members of this cast!), conducting story circles and using playback theatre to restage the events that children shared with us. That piece posited that there’s an opportunity for new kindness and friendship behind every act of cruelty – a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. Such opportunities can arrive in the guise of a considerate classmate, a caring adult, or even  — in Rosie’s case — a veterinarian who kept a thirty-year promise.

Beginning the Road to Hope

Last Tuesday I spent the day at the Hope Elephant Sanctuary in Hope Maine. I met several hard-working volunteers, Dr. Jim Laurita and two 7,500 pound Asian elephants named Rosie and Opal. I was the “playwright in residence” collecting stories and information for the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s upcoming play The Road to Hope: An Elephant’s Story.

Rosie and Opal retired from the circus in 2012. Rosie’s birthplace is on the other side of the world, in Thailand. She was orphaned by her mother and as an infant was shipped off to an American circus. She joined the Big Top just about the same time as Dr. Jim Laurita and his brother Tom, in the mid 1970s.  Jim and Tom traveled town to town with their juggling act. When Jim wasn’t throwing things into the air he was taking care of the elephants. Jim and Rosie developed a special connection when Rosie was young. As Jim went to Cornell to study veterinary medicine and to India to study Asian elephants in the wild, he never forgot Rosie.

rosie promo1Rosie was able to form strong bonds and connections with humans but not with other elephants. She looked different and she didn’t speak the elephant language or know the social cues. In a struggle for leadership and dominance, another elephant attacked Rosie and pushed her into a circus truck. This incident caused irreparable damage to Rosie’s shoulder and scapula. After working all those years in the circus, she also developed nerve damage in her trunk and arthritis in her leg.

Dr. Jim formed Hope Elephants in the fall of 2012, “because he always wanted to do something nice for those girls”—Rosie in particular. At Hope Elephants the girls have healthy diets; fresh carrots and Purina elephant chow. They receive exercise and mental stimulation; and most importantly they found true elephant friendship and support. Jim carefully chose Opal to come to Hope to be Rosie’s companion. Rosie is the matriarch of their two elephant herd and now it appears that the two girls are the best of friends.

The bond between the two elephants is remarkable and the crowning achievement at Hope. Like a true mentor or role model, Jim recognized that Rosie needed more than diet and exercise to live a comfortable fulfilling life. As a writer, teacher and director, I am struck and inspired by this story of kindness and empathy.  I think young people will relate to Rosie’s story on a level that crosses species and culture. Bullying is an epidemic in our schools today, but can be found anywhere, in school yards, circus tents or in the wild. Rosie’s story is that of perseverance, persistence of spirit, and will offer us all hope that true friendship does exist.

Want to learn more about the Hope Elephant Sanctuary? Visit their website:

A Word About Cinderella from the Director

cinderella promo photo 4 14I was never a huge fan of Cinderella. I couldn’t understand why my friends were so eager to act it out when we were kids. The beginning of the story seemed to be all about cleaning — and I hated cleaning! I really didn’t like the idea of having evil stepsisters. And, as a night owl, I shuddered at the idea of having to leave a ball before midnight. I never felt the fancy dress and handsome prince were worth all the trouble.
Yet, throughout my adult life, Cinderella keeps popping up when I least expect her: from informal games to choosing a season, our audience cries out for Cinderella!

While researching Joseph Campbell and the interconnectedness of stories across cultures, I happened upon this play by Lowell Swortzell. In this version, the Cinderella most of us know provides the framework to tell three Cinderella tales from three different cultures. I knew it would be a great fit for our theatre.

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine has won national recognition for our cultural policy work. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I know conversations about culture are necessary but also potentially difficult. Representing other cultures onstage can go terribly wrong. The Morton Kelly Foundation provided us with a grant allowing us to work with cultural consultants to guide and inform our process. The time, patience and wisdom of Sergei Slussky, Connie Zhu, and Meghan Yates made this play what you see today: three different versions of Cinderella coming together in one dynamic and honest production.

Through this rehearsal process, I’ve come to appreciate the story of Cinderella. Cinderella The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale illuminates how different cultures teach similar values to their children. Vasalisa, Yeh Shen and Broken Wing all represent “the ideal girl”. When faced with meanness, trials, and injustice, Cinderella is patient, kind and brave. Supernatural elements — whether a fairy godmother, a magic fish, a talking doll, or an invisible hunter — recognize and reward her hard work and solid character. Despite differences in culture, the wisdom of this fairy tale is universal. Enjoy the show!

Reba Short, Theatre Artistic Director

Be a Cultural Consultant for our production of “Cinderella”

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine is looking for Cultural Consultants to help us with our upcoming production of Cinderella. This is a very special version of the Cinderella story interweaving the Micmac, Russian, and Chinese versions of the tale. We’d like to give each story an authentic voice, and we’re looking for the right people to help us do that. We’re looking for people with an intimate knowledge of Chinese and Micmac culture to share their experience with designers, directors, and young actors.

The Cultural Consultants will be expected to give us preliminary feedback on the script and take part in three one-hour meetings held at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine during March and April 2014. These meetings could take place virtually or by skype if necessary.

1.       One informational meeting with directors and designers to talk about the culture, the story, and the aesthetics of theatre in the specific culture.

2.       One informational meeting with director and young actors to talk about culture, the story, and answer any questions.

3.       One presentation with museum visitors in which the actors will perform a short section from the play and visitors will have a chance to ask questions about the story and culture before the show.

For their contribution to the production, we will offer consultants a modest stipend of $300 and four complementary tickets to see the performance.

If the cultural consultants have theatrical experience, we are also looking for costume designers or set designers for this production. Please note if you are interest in applying for any of those positions.

For more information, or to read a copy of the script, please contact me via email at

Inspired by pal and puppet, Bridget created Visual Impairment Awareness Day

Bridget (second from right, with Reynaldo) and her fellow Kids on the Block puppeteers.

Bridget Fehrs, an 8th grader at Lincoln Middle School, has been a puppeteer with Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Kids on the Block puppet troupe for nearly three years. (If you come to our theatre productions, you’ve probably seen her on stage there, too – she’s been acting with us for years, and just appeared as Country Mouse in our latest show.) The Kids on the Block puppets each live with a different disability or special need, and the young puppeteers who bring them to life are responsible for learning all about each puppet’s disability and being able to answer questions from the audience. Bridget is one of several puppeteers who got to know Reynaldo, a puppet who is visually impaired; she learned how to operate the puppet’s cane and answered dozens of questions from children curious about blindness.

Actors/volunteers Hannah and Jane received a sighted guide training from The Iris Network.

Inspired both by Reynaldo and by a friend who is blind, Bridget approached us with a thoughtful proposal for a Visual Impairment Awareness Day, an event to help kids “better understand what children who are blind encounter in their day to day activities.” To organize the event, Bridget and I worked in collaboration with The Iris Network, a Maine non-profit serving the visually impaired. With financial support from Unum (a longtime sponsor of the Kids on the Block puppet troupe), the event will take place on Saturday, April 27th here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

Events will include Sighted Guide Tours, during which visitors can put on blindfolds and be guided by Kids on the Block puppeteers (trained by The Iris Network), a Braille scavenger hunt, and a Q&A with Cammy, who works for The Iris Network assisting the visually impaired.

Events will take place from 11am-4pm. Get all the details on our calendar of events. All the Visual Impairment Awareness events are free with admission!

I’m Reba. Be one of my campers!

About Reba:

BA Theatre Arts, Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA)
MA Theatre Education, Emerson College (Boston, MA) (expected 2013)
Reba spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, where she facilitated a clowning troupe and helped them teach theatre workshops for youth all over the south-west region of the country. Aside from directing five mainstage productions per year at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, Reba is an active member of Portland’s thriving theatre community. Reba uses theatre to teach anything and anything to teach theatre, loves making art with young actors, and loves watching young people find their spark!

Here’s what Reba has to say about her 2013 summer camps:

Parents approach me all the time asking what opportunities we have for younger actors. Our theatre productions are for ages eight and up, and they have seven-year-olds, six-year-olds, even four-year-olds chomping at the bit to act on our stage. Aside from Teensy Weensy Acting classes for three- to five-year-olds, we offer theatre camps for ages four to eight.

• Once Upon a Time (7/8-7/12) •

For four- to six-year-olds, we believe that inspiring a love of storytelling and a spark of imagination is key. This year,  Once Upon a Time camp will focus on five different fairy tales: Jack and the Beanstalk; Rapunzel; The Magic Fish; Hansel and Gretel; and the Frog Prince. We’ll be telling tales and creating interdisciplinary opportunities to bring the fairy tales to life.  Young children will have a chance to listen, respond and live each tale. On Friday, we’ll put on a performance for our friends and family – a special presentation of our favorite fairytale moments during the week.

• Story in a Bottle (8/19-8/23) •

Later in the summer, we’ll use our imaginations, theatre improvisation and some basic writing skills to develop a story. In the beginning of camp, we’ll discover a cryptic message that washed up on the shore after a hurricane. As a group, we’ll create the backstory.  This camp is based on the Waldorf principal of writing before reading. We believe that by writing the script, the actors will have more control over the story and have a better understanding of the subtext behind their words. This camp will offer chances for mystery, code-breaking, and interpersonal development as we work together to create the play.

A children’s theatre for kids, by kids requires a special kind of actor. Even in our camps, we’re offering concepts and curricula that will develop future actors for our stage! Actors that have experienced our camps come to auditions familiar with the expectations and confident in themselves as actors.

Talk to Reba:

Curious about Reba’s camps? Contact Reba at 828-1234 x247 or email her at

Ready to register? You can do it online here or call Shana at 828-1234 x232.

I’m Reba – Be One of My Campers!

About Reba:

BA Theatre Arts, Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA)
MA Theatre Education, Emerson College (Boston, MA) (expected 2013)
Reba spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, where she facilitated a clowning troupe and helped them teach theatre workshops for youth all over the south-west region of the country. Aside from directing five mainstage productions per year at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, Reba is an active member of Portland’s thriving theatre community. Reba uses theatre to teach anything and anything to teach theatre, loves making art with young actors, and loves watching young people find their spark!

About Reba’s Camps (in her own words):

I was teaching a Teensy Weensy acting class for 3-to-5-year-olds last fall when a 4-year-old actress with a glint in her eye leaned over and whispered, “Peter Pan’s my boyfriend” in my ear.  Without hesitation, I told her that I knew Captain Hook personally and that he’s much nicer than he seems in the book or movies. In Camp Never Neverland, I’m looking forward to reading selections of Peter Pan to my campers, role playing Wendy Darling telling stories to the lost boys.  After that, we’ll act it out, with a museum full of exhibits at our disposal, including a pirate ship outside! The story of Peter Pan has inspired so many children to make believe and pretend that they can fly or go to Neverland, it’s the perfect theme for a drama-based summer camp.

When I was about six years old, I discovered the game of Clue.  I had my mother’s old boardgame from the 1960s.   I loved the intrigue and the mystery, but I would only play with people that were willing to play their characters.  (Apparently, even as a little girl I was a theatre director!) Professor Plum had to be a little nerdy, Mrs. Peacock was very nice and spoke like Ms. Piggy, Miss Scarlet was… Miss Scarlet. By the winter I was seven, playing Clue required dress up clothes and every corner of our house. I think playing Clue inspired me to try out for my first play! As a theatre teacher and educator, I’ve discovered many improvisational theatre games that have to do with playing parts and solving a mystery.  These games quickly become a favorite of young actors in our mainstage productions, which is why I created Detective Camp.  Every day we’ll be finding clues, playing characters and solving mysteries all over the museum! (Please don’t worry about the theme – our culprits will be stick to small misdemeanors and petty crimes.  There will be no murder in our detective camp this summer!)

Talk to Reba:

Curious about Reba’s camps? Contact Reba at 828-1234 x247 or email her at

If you don’t have any questions and are ready to register, you can do it online here or call Shana at 828-1234 x232.